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16 July 2005
6,500-year-old walkway unearthed in England

UK's oldest-ever wooden structures have been unearthed deep in the West. The 6,500-year-old staves and poles were found by workmen digging holes on land at Walpole, near Bridgwater (Somerset, England), as they expanded a waste tip.
     It is thought the wooden remains were once a causeway and fish weir installed by Stone Age men struggling to stay alive in an area that was then salt marsh. Archaeologists said the discovery was a first for Britain and they now wonder what else may be buried nearby.
     "This is unique in the country because it is so early in date, " said Somerset county archaeologist Richard Brunning. "We think they are from about 4,500 BCE, which is before we had farming communities. It is extremely rare to find any stakes and unique to find wooden structures like this surviving," he added.
     Remains of the causeway and fish weir were found in two neighbouring stream courses, about five metres below the soil of peat and clay. Fashioned from two layers of wood held in place with small stakes, the causeway would have offered a safer route across the treacherous landscape, possibly between dwellings. Experts believe the weir, made from wooden uprights driven into the ground, would have caught fish at low tide. It would probably have originally supported a wooden mesh, which has now rotted. More stakes in the stream bed are thought to have been a low-tide walkway. Animal bones from aurochs - massive prehistoric wild cattle - were also found nearby. It is thought the animals may been trapped and drowned in the salty ooze.
     The wooden items are amazingly well-preserved, with bark remaining on the timbers. They have stayed in excellent condition because they have been kept waterlogged, but have also been sealed from the air because of the weight of earth above them. The items have been removed from the site and are now being kept in water at a store in Glastonbury.

Source: This is Somerset (12 July 2005)

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